I have started updating Fire & Ice and Love, Lies, etc. on my other blog where I post Manan fics.
Thank you for all the love and motivation that makes me speechless all the time.
Stay blessed. Stay safe. Love you people 🙂
Post dinner, Manasvi sat on her bed and opened her diary to fill in the missing details that she had forgotten to enter through the day or the ones that she had made a mental note of, to enter them later.
She read again, all that she had written, and was pretty satisfied at the way the story about the working of PBB was shaping up. In the evening, she and Krish had spent some time comparing notes, discussing pictures, and mutually decided that it was not enough to talk about PBB in a single story in The Insight. It deserved a series. And so, a short series of 8-10 episodes was decided on.
Manasvi had talked to the staff of the paramedical and the nursing department in the evening, asked them about the problems they faced, their motivation to join PBB, and their families and different countries of origin. It was surprising that not only the doctors, like Anshuman, Amanda, Alex, and a few other doctors, even the nursing people were from various countries from all across the globe. She asked them more about the dressing material and how to examine the wound and when to call the doctor. Her quest to learn would resurface every time she imagined herself helping someone in need. Learning from these people and Anshuman had renewed her respect for their work.
Her mind drifted to think about Anshuman who must have been waiting for her near the cliff. He had said that he will wait for her. Manasvi’s heart was beating hard when she recalled how he had leaned forwards and asked her to be there at night.
How could she go?
When every interaction, every look from him stirred the deepest feelings inside her and made them sway towards him. No matter how hard she avoided, she found herself thinking about him subconsciously. Whether he had eaten, what he was doing at that time, what he thought about her, whether he knew that she was trying hard to avoid him. She had to maintain her dignity and stay away from him for he had a girlfriend whom he was intending to marry.
Manasvi looked up at Amanda who was sitting on her bed and was reading a book about the history of Afghanistan. Amanda noticed Manasvi looking at her and asked, “Hey, Manasvi, you are here for your documents and birth certificate, right? So you are basically Afghan? Do you remember anything about your early life?”
‘A lot.’ Manasvi thought. She remembered a lot of the scary, gory details of the trauma she had faced. But every time she thought about it, her heart was filled with a seething pain. Every time she remembered it, she wondered if it could have been avoided. If there was anything that could have been done at that time to evade the sorrow she had endured.
Time had taught her a lot and one of the biggest lessons she had learnt was to avoid discussing her personal life with people she didn’t know well. One detail would lead to another discussion and probing, which she had neither the strength nor inclination for. She didn’t want to create more complications in her life than there already were. Nor she wanted to tell Amanda how she and Anshuman were related. So the best answer that she had maintained for her entire life, for everyone, was –
“Not much. I was very young at that time.”
“Oh!” Amanda was disappointed, “I was hoping to know more about this country from you.”
‘This is so weird. She knows that Dr. Shekhawat knows me for many years and he was the one to make arrangements for my stay here. But she doesn’t want to know the details about our families to get a clue about him. Instead, she wants to know about Afghanistan.’
Manasvi smiled, and replied, “Sorry.”
“Oh, that’s fine!” Amanda shrugged, “I was just inquisitive. Customs here are so different.”
“Aren’t they different, everywhere?”
“Yup. You are right. People are the same everywhere but the customs they follow are so different. That is defined mainly by territory. Even India fascinates me. But I don’t know about the customs there. I’m sure you can tell me about India, at least.”
“India is diverse. We don’t have one set of customs and traditions across the country. They vary from one region to another, one state to another, one religion to another. India is home to several different cultures and sects. Even the languages are different.”
“You mean to say, you don’t speak ‘Indian’?” Amanda rolled her eyes.
For the first time, Manasvi laughed, “No. There is no such language called – Indian.”
Amanda flared her eyes wide, followed by her mouth opened in surprise before she asked, “But I always thought that they speak ‘Indian’ language in India, like French in France, German in Germany, Spanish in Spain… likewise.”
This time, Manasvi laughed more, “Who told you that?”
“I don’t know. I must have read somewhere.”
“No, that is wrong. There are different languages spoken in different states and then so many sectorial languages that are spoken in a particular region only. It cannot be compared to France, Germany or Spain, because in other countries, there is one predominant language, religion, culture, cuisine, and customs. India is different because of its diversity. You cross 200 miles and every time you find a different language, culture, food cuisine, and traditions.”
Amanda had her eyes sparkling, “Wow!! Amazing… after all this is over, I want to visit India, once. Will you host me there and take me around?”
Manasvi was surprised. She didn’t even know Amanda well. Why would she ask her to host her and take her around, when she had a boyfriend in India. Manasvi just shrugged, and smiled sweetly, “Sure.”
Amanda closed her book and slipped inside her duvet, closing her eyes, “Good night, Manasvi.”
“Good night!” Manasvi whispered and lay down too. She didn’t want to meet Anshuman. She had told him that she won’t be there.
‘But this is not some random guy who is trying to mess with me and has asked me to meet him. He is Dr. Shekhawat. And he has asked me to be there to talk to him. He will wait.’
Manasvi stepped down the bed and wore her dupatta, wrapping it around herself and placing it over her head. Without making any noise, she left the tent to go to the end of the fortress towards the cliff.
Anshuman was standing there, leaning by the broken wall, facing the valley throwing stones, one by one, down the cliff. When he heard the sound of footsteps behind him, he turned. One look at Manasvi and a warm smile swam on his lips.
As if, it wanted to remind her about her declaration that she won’t come. As if, it displayed how he was confident that she would be there.
‘Strange. Instead of waiting for his girlfriend and talking to her after the hard day’s work, he is standing alone and waiting for me. Or, maybe, Amanda is not his girlfriend, like Krish said, and Dr. Shekhawat’s girlfriend is someone else… maybe at New York, his base hospital. Or maybe, in some other country…’
“You are late.” He said.
“I was talking to Amanda.” She deliberately took her name to see the reaction on Anshuman’s face. There was none. He was as nonchalant as other times. Manasvi slightly probed, “Dr. Shekhawat, you had said that you wanted to get divorced because you had a girlfriend whom you wanted to propose marriage to.”
“Hmm.” Anshuman didn’t say anything else. He simply looked at her face wondering why she was asking this.
“Is Amanda that girlfriend?” She asked innocently, with a sweet smile on her face, trying her best not to make it appear like an interrogation. It was more like a simple doubt.
He cleared his throat, without changing any expression on his face, and wet his dry lips taking them inside his mouth and said, “Yeah. She is the one.”
The confession was like a stab pierced through her heart but Manasvi was used to enduring pain of every kind and knew how to rise above them. She hated herself for asking this and getting more into the murk but she couldn’t avoid it and so she feigned another subtle smile and asked, “Since how many years you are together?”
“Many years. Since college time.” Anshuman didn’t really appear interested in answering her about Amanda. And he knew exactly how to cut off unnecessary inquiries. Before Manasvi could ask anything else, he said, “I don’t really appreciate anyone talking about Amanda.”
Manasvi immediately felt guilty, “I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.”
“Sorry again. And you can shut me up whenever you feel I’m crossing the line by asking more.”
He turned to her and observed her for a long moment. She held a distinctly disappointed frown on her face as she folded her arms across her chest and looked down at the dusty gravel on the ground. She was upset and she was clearly regretting that she asked him about Amanda.
He rolled his eyes and asked in a low, compassionate tone, “Was I rude?”
“No. You are justified. I was being too nosy. Sorry.”
“For one disapproval, how many ‘sorry’s do you speak in general?”
“As many as it takes to dilute the mistake.”
“How about saying not even a single sorry? Instead, saying – ‘I asked what I wanted to ask. I stand by it. If you don’t want to answer, that’s up to you. It’s okay if you don’t reply but that won’t stop me from asking’… how about this?”
She raised her eyes and looked at him, nearly stunned and speechless. He was still looking at her, with an assuring look in his eyes.
“Manasvi, you don’t need to apologize for everything you do. Apologize when you hurt someone or believe that you were wrong. Don’t apologize for asking questions or having an opinion.”
“Even if it hurts someone?” She asked.
“Hurt is too subjective, an emotion. Some people will be hurt just because you spoke something. Unless you were being derogatory or demeaning to him, you can’t be apologizing if just asking a question hurt someone. You asked about Amanda and I didn’t want to talk about her. I told you so. There is no room for apology here.”
Manasvi swayed her jaw slightly, “I will keep it in mind.”
He smiled, and sat down on the edge of the broken wall, facing the valley, “Great. Nothing should stop you from asking questions. The other person has a right – whether to reply or not. But don’t apologize for it.”
She sat down beside him, and chuckled, “Don’t encourage me there. The hundreds of questions in my mind will break all queues demanding to be answered.”
He smirked, “You surprise me! As long as you don’t speak, one can mistake you for being docile, timid, and weak. The moment you share your thoughts, you turn out to be the most fierce woman around.”
She folded her knees up, wrapped her arms around her legs and buried her chin on her upturned knees, “Like I said in the morning, that is what I want to be – fierce and invincible. I’m struggling to get there.”
“You are already there. You simply don’t realize.”
Manasvi could feel her heart ramming against her chest. Her mind felt clouded. The cool wind from the valley gushed through her body and sent hundreds of fine tingles along her skin.
One small sentence from him filled her heart with overwhelming confidence and reassurance. Did he mean to say that she was strong and he had seen that trait in her? Wasn’t it the approval and validation that she had been looking for after working hard on herself?
He turned towards the cliff and threw the stone in his hand down the valley.
“Why do you keep doing this all the time?” Manasvi noticed him and couldn’t stop from asking.
He picked up another stone and opened his palm before her, “This? Do you notice that I throw stones in the valley?”
“All the time.”
He twisted his lips and replied, “These are the negative, overbearing emotions I collect through the day – stress, fatigue, guilt, anger, inability to do all that I want to, mistakes that I wanted to avoid – then at night, I pretend to throw it away, as far as I can. So that they don’t affect me the next day. I want to begin a new day again, tomorrow.”
She listened to him calmly. Thinking about it, she asked, “Does it work?”
He spread his palm before her and said, “Try it.”
She picked up the stone from his hand and looked at it. While her eyes were fixed on it, he asked, “What is troubling you the most at this time?”
The first thought that she had at that time was about her documents, her certificates, her passport, and her citizenship status. She looked at Anshuman. He was right before her. With a warm calming look in his eyes. She replied, “Fear and worry.”
His smile vanished, “Fear and worry, about what?”
“I don’t want to tell you. You insist on helping me.”
“Never be afraid of taking help, Manasvi. People who don’t want to help, won’t help you even after asking them for help. And those who can help and offer you the same might make things easy for you. It is always better to be safe than sorry. Look at this stone. This is the fear and worries you are going through. Throw it away as far as you can. Because we are going to manage whatever problems come to us.”
She looked at the stone and then threw it away with all her might. The stone went hurling away into the darkness of the jungle down the valley, disappearing in the oblivion.
“How did it feel? Did it work?” He asked.
“It felt so good. Can we throw away every problem like this?”
“At least we can pretend to throw them away and that motivates our mind to begin working on them.”
“Hmm. You are right.”
“So, tell me, what was your fear and what was the worry, that you didn’t want to tell me?”
“The officials at MEA said that my Tazkira will be made but not the passport.”
“They need all the records from my childhood, what I did, where I studied all those years when I was not in Afghanistan. That means records from Pakistan.”
“But don’t you have the school leaving certificates and other documents of stay? You must have submitted them while signing up for higher education in India.”
“Yes. I have all the certificates. But they are asking about ‘clearance certificate’ from my school that is like a conduct certificate that I was not involved in any criminal activities and was not thrown out of Pakistan.”
He shrugged, “Big deal?! When you can confidently come this far, what is the issue in going to Pakistan?”
She winced, evidently worried, “I could come here because I had an Afghan passport and I was born here. Without passport and valid documents, who will give me a visa to enter Pakistan? I stayed there for six years as an migrant refugee. I have no basis to enter again.”
“As a tourist?”
“Without a passport?”
“Hmm.” He thought about it and then immediately came up with a suggestion, “I can go in your place. I have a passport, international visa to enter 170 countries. I’ll check if Pakistan is named in them. Otherwise, I will apply for one. PBB doctors are never refused visas. I know, I will get one.”
Immediately, she refused, “No…no… no! Why will you go? That is why I didn’t tell you since I came back. I don’t want you to…”
“Manasvi…wait…” he stopped her from speaking more, “It’s okay. For me, going from one country to another is like tossing and turning in bed. I will just take a flight, go to Karachi, get the form signed on your behalf, and come back.”
“No…please no…” She panicked, “You are putting me through the pain. Why did I even tell you?”
He stood up and stretched his hand towards her to help her in getting up and said, “Tch…trust me… it’s not even a big thing. I will go in the morning and be back at night. Tell me, when do you want it?”
“I don’t know. Only after my Tazkira is made.”
“So, we have time.” He said, thinking about it deeply, as they walked back.
“I am not going to allow you to go. It’s my problem, I’ll handle it.” She declared.
He stopped walking, rested his hands on his waist, and calmly reminded her, “We are not divorced yet. And since you refuse to accept my friendship, I’ll have to tell you that I am still your husband.”
“Dr. Shekhawat…” She tried to reason with him, but he interrupted her.
Sharply he said, “My name is Anshuman.”
She sighed, “Okay…Anshuman…please give me some time to think if we can manage in any other way.”
He declared in strong words, “Even if there is another way, I want to do this.”
His stubbornness surprised her. She asked, “And why would you do so?”
“I have my reasons. It is very important that I do this.”
“And I won’t let you do it unless you tell me your reasons.”
He shook his head nonchalantly, “Forget about it. Good night.”
He turned around to leave before she held his arm and stopped him. The touch of her delicate fingers over his muscular arm was no less than electric. He was startled to a stop. With a knot between her brows, she asked, “What’s going on? Why do I feel this strong, disturbing angst when I am around you? Why do you keep confusing me and never speak anything straight but you want to know everything about me?”
“It’s nothing. You simply overthink.”
“Maybe, I overthink. But I am not naive. I can see. I can sense. I can feel.”
“And what do you feel?”
“That you are hiding under some layers you have put on for the world. You are disturbed, anguished, and in pain… but you prefer to hide it under the haze you have created around you.”
He smirked as if to divert her attention, “Wow! Never heard you speak so much.”
She lifted her head to meet his eyes and said –
“Dr. Anshuman Shekhawat, you are yet to hear what I haven’t spoken.”